Chief secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss has compared government bureaucracy to creatures from the 1984 film Gremlins to warn that next year’s Spending Review will not lead to a feeding frenzy for Whitehall.
In a speech to the London School of Economics yesterday, Truss went further than her previously-reported comments that had warned government departments there will be little money to boost public spending in the 2019 Spending Review.
She said that the negotiations with departments would focus on creating what she called “the sleek state” by further modernising government through new technologies to control spending and overall government debt.
This would require looking at all government spending with fresh eyes to “think more as a start-up would”, she said, rather than simply rolling over budgets from previous years.
“Those familiar with the 1984 film Gremlins will recall how the cute Gizmo, when fed after midnight, turned into a slime-soaked baddie Stripe,” Truss said. “In much the same way, there’s a tendency for governments and bureaucracy to multiply and exert further control. And before you know it gremlins are everywhere.
“There is a temptation to feed these creatures after midnight.
“But more widely we have to recognise that it’s not macho just to demand more money. It’s much tougher to demand better value and challenge the blob of vested interests within your department.”
She reiterated that some of her Cabinet colleagues were “not being clear about the tax implications of their proposed higher spending”.
Defence secretary Gavin Williamson and home secretary Sajid Javid are among the senior figures thought to be looking for budget boosts as negotiations for the next spending round begin.
Instead of increasing spending, the Spending Review would take a “zero-tolerance approach to wasteful spend”, Truss said.
“We need to take a look at ourselves and think ‘what is the best way to use the money entrusted to us?’ We have to make every pound pull its weight.”
Among the areas where technology could change government was the move to being paper free, which should be a target “within a generation”.
“[Former prime minister] David Cameron spoke about the post-bureaucratic age and an information revolution but we’re still wading through paper. The box that I take home every night groans and creaks with documents.
"It feels less like the post-bureaucratic age and more like the most-bureaucratic. So it’s my ambition that we transition to a digital, no-paper state within a generation.”
However, elsewhere in the speech, Truss appeared to attack environment secretary Michael Gove's war on disposable cups and plastic straws.
Truss said it should not be the government's job to tell people how to live their lives.
She said: "Many of the rules that we have in place are important in guaranteeing public safety. But it's hard to shake the feeling that sometimes they just get in the way of consumers' choices and lifestyles. And government's role should not be to tell us what our tastes should be.
"Too often we're hearing about eating too many doughnuts, drinking from disposable cups through plastic straws, or enjoying the warm glow of our wood-burning Goves - I mean stoves.
"I can see their point: there's enough hot air and smoke at the environment department already."